The San Diego State Aztecs (4-1) won the Continental Tire Main Event Championship, defeating the Washington Huskies (3-2), 100-97, in overtime at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV on Sunday night. The Aztecs won the tournament for the second consecutive time, previously winning in 2019.
“We are still a defensive program even though we scored 100 points,” SDSU men’s basketball head coach Brian Dutcher remarked with a smile at the conclusion of his postgame press conference.
“The offensive talent out there tonight was incredible. The way that guys could score that basketball.”
The Aztecs looked to have sealed a double-digit victory in regulation before wilting over the final few minutes of the game, reminiscent of late-game collapses against Creighton and Arkansas in the past two seasons.
A five-second violation on Lamont Butler plus a crucial jump-ball call on Reese Waters in the final seconds gave the Huskies the opportunity to win the game. Paul Mulcahy missed one of two free throws with one second remaining that would have given the Huskies the lead and potential win.
“Some people will say our press offense wasn’t good,” quipped Dutcher postgame. “(It) was darn good other than the 5-second count and couple of jump balls … We’ve worked on the press break, but it’s obviously frustrating when you have a lead and it kinda slips away at the end but that’s college basketball.”
The jump balls came when the inbounds pass went to a player in the corner, and they were immediately double-teamed. When asked postgame if their wish is to inbound in the corner, Dutcher said no, with the preference to go more towards the foul line.
“Like I said, when we did throw it in the corner, we got it out of there most of the time.”
“You can watch 100 games, and most of those teams at the end of the game are going to end up with that ball in the corner somehow, and how are they going to get it out of there? The only way to not get it out there sometimes is to run plays to throw deep. … With the lead, I didn’t want to take that risk.”
Instead, the Aztecs had a chance for redemption in overtime, and Jaedon LeDee provided them exactly that.
LeDee matched Washington’s Keion Brooks, Jr. (eight points on four shots) in overtime to keep the Aztecs within striking distance. His layup in the final minute of the game gave the Aztecs the lead they would no longer relinquish.
“All credit to coach Dutcher,” said LeDee postgame about the game-winning play. “He drew up that play in the huddle, and he trusted me to go out there and make the right decision. If they would have helped, I would have kicked it (out). I got to my spot, so I got it up.”
Butler stripped Brooks, and Waters knocked down two free throws to push the lead to three. Washington’s Moses Wood missed a three from the corner that would have tied it at the final buzzer.
LeDee continued his monster start to the season, scoring 34 points (10-20 FG, 14-18 FT) and grabbing 17 rebounds. He also dished out three assists.
LeDee became just the sixth Aztec since 1997 to score 20+ points and grab 15+ rebounds in a game but also the first player in Mountain West history with at least 34 points and 17 rebounds while shooting at least 50% from the field.
“Jaedon is a monster,” said Dutcher. “I can’t believe anybody is scoring more points than he is yet doing it the right way. Doing it unselfishly. Taking what the defense gives him and stepping up and making big plays.”
Elijah Saunders (16), Micah Parrish (15), and Reese Waters (13) also scored in double digits for the Aztecs.
Brooks finished with 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. Savhir Wheeler (19) and Wood (18) chipped in to help Brooks.
The Aztecs shot 20 more free throws than the Huskies, making 31 of 41 versus 18 of 21. They gave up 46 points in the paint but only allowed six offensive rebounds after allowing 16 to St. Mary’s on Friday night.
The Aztecs took a three-point lead into halftime on a 3-pointer by Darrion Trammell at the first-half buzzer. Both teams made five threes in the first half, but the Huskies shot better from the field (55% to 44%). The Huskies assisted on 13 of their 16 made shots in the half, including nine of Paul Mulcahy’s 13 for the game.
LeDee was the only player in double figures in the first half, scoring 13 points (4/8 FG, 5/6 FT). Three different Huskies scored eight a piece in the half.
After the Huskies utilized their hot shooting to take a seven-point lead (32-25) with about seven minutes remaining in the half, the Aztecs closed the half on an 18-8 run. They forced seven turnovers (five on steals) in the half, turning them into 12 points. Conversely, the Aztecs took care of the ball, only committing one turnover.
Washington’s top two big men, starter Franck Kepnang (two fouls) and backup Braxton Meah (three fouls) got in foul trouble, which helped the Aztecs take control of the final minutes of the half. Kepnang fouled out in regulation.
Washington’s coach, Mike Hopkins, a Jim Boeheim disciple who specialized in the 2-3 zone, went to the zone early in the second half after playing man-to-man in the first half to disrupt the Aztecs’ offense. Elijah Saunders put back an offensive rebound on the first possession against the zone, but the Aztec offense went idle for the next four minutes. An 8-0 run by the Huskies gave them a 50-49 lead with 14:10 remaining in the game.
Reserves Miles Byrd and Jay Pal helped the Aztecs break the ice against the zone. Byrd nailed a three off an inbounds play from the left win to break the Huskies’ run, and Pal’s steal and layup pushed the lead to 4. Dutcher used Pal to flash to the top of the key against the zone to help free up the corners and get better touches in the paint during the key sequences.
“I told (Pal) and Miles Byrd after the game that their minutes won’t reflect their impact on the game,” responded Dutcher when asked about Pal’s impact. “They came in and sparked us on a little run and got the run started. Sometimes you don’t get the minutes or numbers you deserve, but you have an impact on the game.”
LeDee struggled from the field in the first 11 minutes of the second half, missing his first five shots, but made 3 of 4 FTs and grabbed seven rebounds over that span. He made his first and second buckets on identical foul line jumpers on consecutive possessions with just over eight minutes remaining to extend the Aztec lead to seven. He knocked in another jumper on the next possession to push the lead back to seven after a Washinton dunk.
A quick 7-0 run by the Aztecs in 37 seconds gave them their biggest lead of the night, 12, at 78-66 with 5:12 remaining before the Huskies began attacking the rim for easy layups. Missed free throws aided the Huskies’ effort to send the game into overtime.
Koren Johnson, the former SDSU verbal commit before signing with the Huskies, scored nine points (3-8 FG, 0-3 3PT, 3-3 FT) and recorded four assists.
Earlier on the night, Xavier (3-2) defeated St. Mary’s (2-3), 66-49, in the consolation game of the tournament.
SDSU returns to Southern California for another neutral site game against a Pac-12 opponent, California, on Saturday at 4 pm in San Juan Capistrano.
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America’s Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.